Saturday, November 5, 2016

ideas from inmates on improving prisons

Everyone has ideas about what prisons should be like. Some want them to be tougher -- no TVs, hard labor, solitary confinement with no books. Hang 'em high. Others want more programs, more education. No death penalty.

What do inmates want? They live there; they ought to have some ideas about how to improve prisons.

And so they do. Five Texas inmates produced a report about their ideas.

They include thoughtful ideas like this one:
Notification of family deaths should be made uniform. Death notices should be verifiable. P olicy should be written to require the person notifying an inmate of a death to sign and date the form and also have the inmate being notified sign and date the form. If for some reason security has to do the death notice, they should be required to fill out this paperwork as well. If the responsible party fails to notify the inmate of the death, they should be held administratively responsible with proper administrative disciplinary action taken.
Good idea. Delivering the news of a death in the family should always be treated with care and sensitivity. If prison employees bungle that task, they should face consequences.

DCJ should encourage chaplains and re-entry departments to coordinate with churches in various communities to welcome inmates into their congregations as part of the reintegration process. This would encourage inmates to surround themselves with positive influences and not return to a life of crime or the criminal environment. 
Some kind of hotline should be made available for inmates' loved ones to file complaints about unit chaplains. Repeated complaints should result in administrative disciplinary action against the chaplain. This would serve as an incentive for the chaplain to maintain professional behavior that will most likely influence rehabilitation among the inmate population and therefore reduce recidivism.
Reducing the chance for re-offending is a thread that runs throughout the 65-page report. Inmates know what will help them stay out of trouble; we should listen to their ideas.

Reducing the burden on the families of inmates is another theme. Families send money to inmates so they can purchase goods to make them more comfortable. Limited commissary selections drive inmates to the black market, costing families (and taxpayers) more.
Commissary is one of the most cherished privileges inmates have. Approximately 40% of TDCJ's population is indigent, yet they still benefit from commissary, either by friends who provide them with things or as payment for some kind of 'hustle,' such as artwork. Most prison chow halls serve food that is poorly prepared, that tastes bad, and that most of the inmates do not want to eat. Commissary provides the ability to buy alternative foods to supplement or replace prison chow.

Unfortunately, commissary also preserves the black market because of its limited selection. For example, since the prison commissaries do not sell any kind of chlorinated powder, such as Tide or Ajax as they used to, inmates turn to the black market and buy stolen bleach and powder detergent from people who work in the laundry. Likewise, commissary will not sell food seasonings such as onion powder, garlic, dehydrated onions and bell peppers, etc, so inmates buy these stolen goods from the kitchen. As a result, the stolen goods do not get put into the general population's laundry or food, and negative behavior (theft and the purchase of stolen goods) continues among the prison population. Another factor to consider is that these goods are stolen at the expense of the taxpayer. ...
TDCJ commissaries should sale [sic] goods that are regularly stolen from unit kitchens and laundry departments. DCJ recently stopped selling a decent powder detergent called Heritage, and immediately black market sales for laundry detergent and bleach increased in the inmate population.
...inmates overwhelmingly agree that if fruits and vegetables were sold in commissary, they would buy them regularly. DCJ will object that inmates would make wine if fruit were sold in commissary. However; inmates make wine without fruit by using fruit juice, mint sticks, raisins stolen from the kitchen, and other black-market items procured in prison. Trying to eliminate the exceptional activities of a few by prohibiting healthy items for all serves no purpose. The wine is still being made! Raw or pre-packaged vegetables and fresh fruit--not the fruit saturated in sugary syrup--should be sold in commissary. Inmates would buy apples, oranges, onions, salads, pre-packaged sandwiches (similar to vending machines), etc., by the sack load if they were available. [My emphasis.]
Prisons work against their own interests when they prohibit commonly used goods. Prohibition has little effect on the availability of those goods; it only changes the market where inmates can buy them. It also creates opportunity for inmates to break the rules. If buying fruit were allowed, inmates would no longer risk additional punishment for buying fruit.

Families of inmates will nod as they read the report. They will see that these five inmates know how families are affected by prison policies and how inmates in general want to lead good lives.

The full report is worth reading.

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